Center for American Progress

The XM-Sirius Merger: Media Consolidation Killed the Radio Star
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The XM-Sirius Merger: Media Consolidation Killed the Radio Star

As Congress continues its hearings on the XM-Sirius satellite radio merger, CAP considers what this means for democratic media.

The Senate Judiciary Committee today will discuss antitrust and competition policies alongside consumer rights during its hearing on the proposed merger of satellite radio companies XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. Mark Lloyd, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a telecommunications policy expert, argues that the more important issue is whether media mergers like the XM-Sirius deal contribute to a vibrant American democracy.

Congress, Lloyd argues, should turn its attention to the critical issue of media diversity rather than focus on arcane antitrust theories designed to police market competition, not the marketplace of ideas. That’s why he teamed up with a number of other telecommunications experts to craft a media diversity index that gauges the impact of a communications merger according to democratic values, not market values.

In the case of satellite radio, XM and Sirius argue that there is already enough competition between different types of media and, therefore, it may not be necessary to promote competition within a particular form of media (such as satellite radio). From a market competition perspective, this means a satellite radio merger would not necessarily violate monopoly rules.

But what does this mean for XM and Sirius audiences? Lloyd warns that a merger could threaten the level of pluralism in satellite radio content, making it impossible to achieve the goal of providing wide public access to diverse sources of information. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should make it possible for all communities to learn about and participate in public discourse at the local, state, and national levels.

Public debate is drastically limited when a large number of media outlets are controlled by a very small group of like-minded corporations, especially in niche marketplaces such as satellite radio or local radio. FCC rules that protect local advertising on satellite radio but actually discourage satellite radio providers from offering local programming to local communities also limit the diversity of radio content.

When national services corner the local advertising market, it takes away local radio stations’ incentive to produce local programming in order to attract local advertising. The FCC rules endanger content diversity by forcing local radio to shift to a national focus rather than presenting a wide variety of local voices. This result is only exacerbated by radio consolidation.

To address this issue so critical to a thriving democracy, CAP released a report earlier this year entitled “Local Media Diversity Matters: Measure Media Diversity According to Democratic Values, Not Market Values,” authored by Mark Lloyd and Phil Napoli, Director of the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University. CAP worked with a small but diverse group of media scholars and lawyers to develop a method to measure local media diversity in an effort to promote local democracy.

The result was a Metric for Local Media Diversity, CAP’s guideline for the FCC, consisting of four main measures:

  1. Determine media markets in a way that captures the diversity of sources available to both the general public and significantly distinct “ethnic” audiences.
  2. Count all “independent” media outlets that serve the local media market, including print, broadcast, cable, and Internet media; but include only those sources contributing locally produced news and public affairs.
  3. Measure the potential audience of each particular media source in the market.
  4. Measure the news workers for each media source in the market, with additional points given for gender and ethnic diversity.

With these measures, we can reframe the debate over media ownership in general and the XM-Sirius merger in particular. As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues its hearings on the XM-Sirius merger, the main concerns must be diversity rather than markets and democracy rather than the corporate bottom line.

To read the full report, see:

To speak with Mark Lloyd please contact:

For TV, Sean Gibbons, Director of Media Strategy 202.682.1611 or sgibbons@americanprogress.org
For radio, Theo LeCompte, Media Strategy Manager 202.741.6268 or tlecompte@americanprogress.org
For print, Trevor Kincaid, Deputy Press Secretary 202.741.6273 or tkincaid@americanprogress.org
For web, Erin Lindsay, Online Marketing Manager 202.741.6397 or elindsay@americanprogress.org

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